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05 January 2011

On Crowd Accelerated Innovation

Chris Anderson, the guy who founded TED - not the WIRED writer, has an interesting article on what he deems "crowd accelerated innovation." I won't hash out all the details but the basic idea is that people in certain areas (dance and architecture are two I remember) are able to innovate faster vis a vie the internet and specifically videos. The idea came to him when he realized that by publishing TED talks online the quality of future talks was improved. People invited to speak at TED poured over the archive and practiced their speeches and it showed.

This idea appeals to me because one, I have first hand experience with this which I will get into in a moment and two, it dispels the myth of the lone genius which is rarely if ever the case. Einstein had his first wife Mileva who was perhaps smarter than himself, Edison ran innovation like a factory, Kalashnikov (of AK47 fame) was the head of a design team which was played down by the Soviets to trump up the hero card, etc. Tesla may be an exception but come on, it's Tesla. He was barely human.

As usual I digress to a paintball story. Back in the day - that is, roughly the late 90's paintball tournaments were played in the woods. This made for some pretty bad spectating. You could rarely get a good glimpse of what made good teams good. The sport evolved and by the time I started playing national tournaments (NPPL, when there was one league) in roughly 2000 woods fields were a thing of the past. What this allowed more than anything was for amateurs to see how the pros played. It used to be the case that all teams at a tournament would play teams of other classifications - of which there were three - Pro, Amateur A, and Amateur B. In 80-90% of the match-ups the team in the higher division would win handily. But as time progressed and classifications went from 3 divisions to 4 (Pro, D1, D2, D3) and 5 (+semi pro) this wasn't the case at all. The gap in skill decreased. Of course some of this could be attributed to various factors - lower cost of paint, widening of classifications, smaller teams (from 10 man to 7) which means more chance, but by far and away I believe it was because everyone could see what the pros were doing. You could literally stand next to the net at a national tournament without paying admission for the cost of gas to get there. A paintball education became cheap.

You could see where they ran off the break, where they shot, how they shot, how they moved, how they talked, and the young kids started to mimic them. It really cannot be overstated how much it changed paintball. In 2002 if a pro team lost to an amateur team it was the talk of the tournament, but by 2006 it was entirely common for a good amateur team to beat a top ranked pro team - we did it repeatedly.

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